Let’s Talk About Witch Girls!
I touched on this excellent slab of Aussie garage punk on my Halloween Nuggets playlist a few years ago (that comp does not appear to be on Spotify anymore, which renders the playlist useless—but you should totally buy the 3-disc set. It’s well worth it!), but it’s time I really dove into The Mystrys and their phenomenal spooky garage rocker “Witch Girl” from 1966. And because I don’t really know anything about this band except that the song is a ripper, Mystrys guitarist Ziggy Zapata was kind enough to answer some questions for me, so after I gush over the song for a couple paragraphs, we’ll hand things over to him.
Ziggy also designates a section of his website to a brief story about the band’s existence, replete with newspaper clippings and more current pics of the band members.
Essentially, the band was put together with the intention of rivaling the British Invasion bands of the time, namely The Beatles. Their gimmick, though, was to cover their faces with green hoods (I only know they’re green because Ziggy says so on his website—the photos I’ve seen are all black and white). Zapata refers to this gimmick as being the stupidest idea ever, but I disagree. He makes good points about how to achieve pop stardom, your handsome faces need to be on displace, so I get that. But as far as I’m concerned, The Mystrys were the proto-KISS, or Alice Cooper, or any of a number of rock or metal bands over the years who wore makeup or masks and developed these outlandish personas. This gimmick was used again by mid-70s LA glam rockers Zolar X. They didn’t wear hoods, but they dressed, acted and spoke like aliens. And of course, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
“Witch Girl” opens with some laboratory sound effects, which gives it a nice seasonal feeling right off the bat. From there, it’s a two-ish minute burst of ’66 garage punk with some nice spooky sound effects thrown around for atmosphere. This was, unfortunately, the band’s only single.
The b-side is a slower tempo track called “Land of the Green Sun”, about the place where the Mystrys come from. It does not appear to have been comp’d anywhere, which is a bummer. It’s a good tune and would fit nicely on one of the compilations of the moodier side of the genre.
When I was perusing Ziggy’s site about the band, he invited those wishing to know more about The Mystrys to contact him, so I did, so I will let him get into the weeds a bit more about the band’s history and the song.
Bloody Popcorn: The atmosphere of “Witch Girl” immediately evokes a garage-ier, punk-ier “Monster Mash”, not with the lyrics but with the sound effects, etc. Was that the idea—to create something to haunt the airwaves with every October for decades to come?
ZIGGY: The song was arranged in the current style of “surf” rock, such as the hit “Bombora” by The Atlantics and some of the American surf sound hits of that era. The sound effects were Bob Crawford’s idea to give the song that “horror” feel. They were added by the recording engineer, Roger Savage. In fact Bob asked me to keep the guitar solo as plain and simple as possible because of the sound effects over the top of it. I had all intentions to do a bit of “shredding”, but did what Bob wanted. When The Mystrys performed Witch Girl live, I really let loose on the guitar solo because we didn’t use sound effects as per the recording.
BP: Your site mentions 20 other songs that were written but never recorded. Given the spooky vibe of “Witch Girl’ and the other worldly concept of “Land of the Green Sun”, were the other songs in line with those first two cuts? I envision a sort of Quadrophenia but themed around masked aliens battling monsters.
ZIGGY: Yes, most of the songs were in the same genre, but we didn’t even get to play them. The idea was to go on tour just after Witch Girl was released and after The Mystrys did a few TV shows to promote it. The band did go on tour, but broke up after manager Michael Kopp stole the takings, bounced cheques everywhere and vanished, with the cops hot on his tail. I don’t know if they ever caught up with Kopp.
BP: Your site mentions TV appearances, but I can’t find anything on YouTube. Is footage of any of these appearances floating around anywhere?
ZIGGY: The Mystrys were on most of that era’s TV music shows, such as Kommotion and Go – I can’t even remember the others, because the entire period is a blur in my memory. But I know that we appeared on quite a few TV shows. I have not even searched for YouTube clips, but if you can’t find any, then there are none.
BP: The songwriting for “Witch Girl” is credited to Bob King Crawford. I did a little looking on discogs.com, and there were a number of singles and albums credited to him—they appeared to be comedy albums? Can you tell me anything about him and how/why he ended up writing songs for The Mystrys?
ZIGGY: Bob Crawford was hired by manager Michael Kopp to put The Mystrys together – in other words, manufacture a rock band that was different, publicise the band and write some songs that would be released and hope that they were hits. In other words, The Mystrys were probably the first “manufactured” band in Australia, something like The Monkees, rather than operate as all the other bands of the era, such as playing around the pubs until they got a following and became well-known. Bob created The Mystrys from nothing into a recognised band literally overnight by a combination of sheer bullshit. He spread rumours around that we were The Beatles on holiday in Australia, that we were aliens, that we were all sorts of things and he managed to get the media to write stories about us and organised other publicity stunts. I have not actually heard anything else the Bob wrote.
BP: The “Witch Girl” single appears to be pretty rare. There is only one on sale on discogs.com at the moment for $500 and one on eBay for $1,000. Have you ever been approached about a reissue? I’m picturing a cool photo cover with one of the hooded shots and band history, etc. It seems like one of the reissue labels would have sought to do this already.
ZIGGY: I have never been approached by anybody to reissue Witch Girl, as I don’t have any rights to the music. I don’t think that anybody is really interested and I would be very surprised if that was the case.
BP: You posted pictures from band meetups in recent years. Have you guys played any music together during those times and could reunion shows be in the cards?
ZIGGY: Prior to The Mystrys, Charlie and I played in a scratch band called The Silhouettes (a popular name for a lot of garage bands in the day) at a place in St Kilda called Maas Cabaret. I think that this was really the genesis of The Mystrys and when Charlie was asked to form The Mystrys, obviously he asked me to be the lead guitarist. But I never worked with Charlie or the other guys after The Mystrys broke up. I can’t see a reunion show happening at all. Charlie is now 75 years old and is still reasonably fit and is singing well, I will be 72 years old soon and have a few medical issues. Kevin Thomas is a flute teacher living near Melbourne and I don’t think that he would be interested and John Lake, The Mystrys second drummer lives in Canada and has been out of music for decades. So The Mystrys won’t be performing again.
BP: Lastly, you make it clear in your band history that you do not think the hoods were a good idea, but I love the gimmick and I love even more that it seems no one ever really figured out who was under the hoods for decades. Do you think you guys inspired any of the various bands who would go on to use costume gimmicks and alternate identities? Even if they weren’t directly inspired, The Mystrys could certainly be considered the proto-Spiders from Mars.
ZIGGY: The hoods were a good gimmick to get interest in The Mystrys as far as promotion was concerned, but they were a really lousy idea when it came to getting a teeny-bopper following. I remember when The Mystrys were performing a string of town hall rock events, that hordes of young girls would be beating on the doors of our caravan that was our dressing room, but manager Michael Kopp would not let them in and we were forbidden to ever reveal who we were to anybody. So essentially we lost the sort of following that stars like Normie Rowe, The Easybeats, The Master’s Apprentices, Ray Brown and The Whispers had – and a following of fans was critical. I felt that The Mystrys could have gone on to bigger and better things if two things had happened – 1, We stayed together after Michael Kopp departed and 2, we discarded the hoods. The Mystrys were a good band in their own right. All the members were very competent, probably musically better than 99% of the other bands on the scene. I think that The Mystrys could have established themselves as one of the premier bands of the era, but unfortunately that was not to be.
As far as nobody knowing who we were for such a long time, I don’t think that anybody was really interested. Even I had forgotten about my time in The Mystrys until a friend jogged my memory forty years later and I started researching Witch Girl and all that other stuff and I contacted Charlie. To tell you the truth, I was quite shocked to find that there were so many people interested in garage bands of that era, as I had no idea that this scene even existed.
You have to understand that after The Mystrys broke up, I went on to be a professional club and recording musician, then only a few years later, put together a concert act with fellow guitarist Joe Paparone called “Joe And Ziggy” and we spent four years constantly touring and performing. Then in 1973 I went solo, working under the stage name of Ziggy Zapata (certainly not my real name) and was very busy performing my shows and working on cruise ships. That is what I have been doing to this day, so The Mystrys era was literally out of my mind until I was reminded of it four decades later.
I want to thank Ziggy for chatting with me through email. I play this song a hundred times every fall, and even in April and July and whenever—so add it to your playlist if you haven’t.
We’ll finish things up with a cover version I came across by Marcel Bontempi, who appears to be a current German musician who leans towards garage/surfy/rockabilly stuff with spooky themes: